UKRAINE’S prime minister yesterday accused Russia of trying to start another World War through military and political occupation of his country.
The war of words and tensions over Ukraine between East and West escalated as Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s accusation came on a day a rocket-propelled grenade downed a Ukrainian military helicopter, wounding the pilot, and Russia ordered further army exercises on its border with Ukraine.
He said: “The world hasn’t forgotten the Second World War, and Russia wants to start a Third World War.
“Russia’s support for the terrorists in Ukraine constitutes an international crime and we call on the international community to unite against the Russian aggression.”
The fiery rhetoric came as Ukraine’s embattled government pressed ahead with its “anti-terrorist” operation aimed at regaining control of areas in the east of the country seized by pro-Russian separatists.
In the eastern town of Slovyansk, bloody clashes between the Ukrainian army and militants left one protester dead and many injured from both sides as government units fought to blockade the town, which has become a flashpoint for violence between the two sides.
Kiev reiterated that the operations were aimed at “neutralising the terrorists”.
Reacting to Ukraine’s military push, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov described it as a crime against the Ukrainian people.
He added: “They [Kiev] are waging a war on their own people. This is a bloody crime, and those who pushed the army to do that will pay, I am sure, and will face justice.”
Mr Lavrov also attacked the West, saying it wanted to “seize Ukraine for its own geopolitical ambitions and not the interests of the Ukrainian people”.
“The might of US propaganda,” he added, was aimed “at smearing Russia, smearing those who protest against the illegal actions of the [Kiev] authorities”.
Moscow still insists the Kiev government is illegitimate and came to power through a coup, despite it still possessing the overwhelming backing of a parliament elected in 2012 and one that approved most of the ministers in the current cabinet.
The Russian government also announced that thousands of troops massed on the Ukrainian border would start new exercises in a move seen by many as a blunt warning to Kiev to curtail its military operations or face the prospect of invasion.
Ukraine’s defence minister Mikhail Koval said Russian forces had come within a kilometre of Ukrainian territory and the government stressed that any incursion by Russian troops into Ukraine would be treated as a “military invasion” that would be met by force.
As an indication of growing western frustration with Russia over Ukraine, the UK, the US, France, Germany and Italy agreed yesterday that Moscow had failed to follow the Geneva agreement on reducing tension in Ukraine and threatened new sanctions.
A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said: “While they continued to hold open the door to a diplomatic resolution of this crisis, based on the Geneva agreement, the five leaders agreed that in the light of Russia’s refusal to support the process, an extension of the current targeted sanctions would need to be implemented, in conjunction with other G7 leaders and with European partners.”
German chancellor Angela Merkel said European Union foreign ministers would “meet as soon as possible,” to discuss action, while the US State Department said there was now agreement to “impose costs” on Moscow.